“Portugal’s judges are prejudiced”, says UN report

It took eight months in coming, but the UN report on the independence of Portugal’s judiciary has finally published its conclusions on the whistle-stop visit made in January – and the bottom line is that the country’s judges are prejudiced.

They may be independent – and that has to be applauded, says special envoy Gabriela Knaul – but their judicial decisions are peppered with preconceived notions and ideas that have no place in a courtroom.

Diário de Notícias gives one harrowing example this morning, harking back to the double rape of two holidaymaking hitchhikers in the Algarve.

The two young women, aged 18 and 22, were raped by two men after being picked up as they tried to thumb a lift from Almancil into Faro.

The men were eventually condemned to three-year jail terms, but the comments by judges at the Supreme Tribunal of Justice when the men appealed their original sentences have never been forgotten:

“If it is certain that we are dealing here with two repugnant crimes, the two victims contributed very much towards what happened”, said the panel. “Young girls, but already certainly women, they did not hesitate to go onto the road to ask for a lift to whoever was passing, in the full flush of so-called Iberian manhood.

It is impossible that they could not have foreseen the risk they were running; here, just as much as in their own country, attraction for the opposite sex is an undeniable given and, sometimes, it is not easy to dominate”.

The written conclusions may refer to a case from the past, writes DN, but “prejudice can still be a weak point among our lawmakers”.

“Judicial magistrates and the Public Ministry should avoid the reproduction of prejudice in judicial decisions”, explains Knaul in her report, which carries no weight or obligation but cannot sit well with the nation’s judiciary as it struggles against the habitual backlog of cases in leaky mouse-infested courtrooms up and down the country
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